NZRC shifts gears for first single-day event
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The New Zealand Rally Championship shifts gears on Sunday for the first single-day event of the 2017 season in Canterbury this weekend.
The Lone Star Rally of Canterbury, based at Rangiora, will challenge competitors with 195km of gravel special stages -- mainly in the Ashley Forest.
With the potential for some challenging winter conditions, it's an event that has competitors keenly watching the weather forecast.
In last year's rally -- which delivered a career-first outright win for Dunedin's Emma Gilmour -- parts of the stages were covered in ice and snow.
There is a 78-strong field for Sunday's 10-stage event that follows the two-day rallies that opened the season at Otago and Whangarei.
After two rounds the older-style production cars have gained an early advantage with Te Aroha's Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) holding a three-point lead in the series over Rangiora's Matt Summerfield (Subaru Impreza STI). Summerfield put himself in championship contention with a winning performance at the Whangarei event and success in his home event would strengthen his title bid.
Other leading contenders are Aucklander Andrew Hawkeswood in his Mazda2 AP4, Rotorua's Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX), Balclutha's Rhys Gardner (Mazda2 AP4) and the new Audi S1 AP4 car of Auckland's Dylan Turner.
Drivers who have had a troubled start to the 2017 season include 2015 national champion Ben Hunt (Auckland) in his Subaru WRX STI and Emma Gilmour with her Suzuki Swift AP4.
Young Christchurch driver Job Quantock -- ninth in the championship after starting the season in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7 -- will get his first opportunity to compete in the Hyundai NZ i20 AP4 this weekend.
Quantock won the inaugural Hyundai NZ Young Driver Scholarship in December last year that provides two chances to drive Hayden Paddon's locally developed car. The car was driven to victory at the Otago event by 2016 national champ David Holder (Mt Maunganui) and Quantock will be guided through the Canterbury stages by Holder's regular co-driver Jason Farmer (Hamilton).
Four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Greg Murphy is to make his second appearance as part of the two-car Holden Barina AP4 effort as team-mate to Christchurch driver Josh Marston.
The rally gets off to a ceremonial start at 4.30pm on Saturday in Manchester St, Christchurch, and finishes there at 7pm on Sunday.
The longest stage is a 33km test through the northern part of the Ashley Forest.
It will be used as the second and sixth stage of the rally, while the final two stages will provide the added challenge of being run in early darkness.